In the course of our daily reporting, we often uncover unusual projects, places, or connections that don't make the final cut. Instead of keeping it to ourselves, we're pleased to share our weekly Architrivia.
Among many Canadians, the mere mention of "Portage and Main," conjures up an image that is just as likely to come from imagination as from first-hand experience. It's a spot that has been interchangeably known as "Canada's coldest intersection," "Canada's windiest corner," and "the crossroads of Canada." Winnipeg's main intersection is known first and foremost for its purported status as a cold unforgiving street corner in a nation known around the globe for its wintry weather, and secondly as a spiritual, if not quite geographic, mid-point. Portage and Main has long enjoyed a near legendary status within Canada, the idea of the place, perhaps more than the reality, has served to make Portage and Main the country's most famous intersection.
Described at length by popular Canadian historian and cultural icon Pierre Berton in his 1970 classic, The National Dream, the early years of Portage Avenue are remembered as an old Red River ox cart trail and a passage to the Canadian Prairies. The trail once carried endless streams of early settlers to Portage la Prairie and beyond, to exotic locales such as Saskatoon, North Battleford, and Edmonton. According to Berton, the street owes its considerable width — the downtown street is the widest of its kind in Canada — to its historic use as an ox cart trail. At its height, the muddy rut-rife passage through town was wide enough to accommodate up to 20 carts at once.
Six lanes wide throughout the entirety of its 14km length, Portage Avenue, known officially today as Route 85 on the Trans-Canada Highway, pushes westward from the city centre. It carries travellers from downtown to the city's western boundary, where it then becomes Trans-Canada Highway 1. Together with Main Street, Portage Avenue is home to several of Winnipeg's most famous landmarks and historic structures. Several prime examples of the city's built heritage, including the Confederation Life Building, Union Trust Tower, and Union Bank Tower, along with the stately historic edifices of the Exchange District, have contributed to the city's reputation as the Chicago of the North.
Featured in countless poems, songs, and popular works of fact and fiction, Portage and Main has cemented itself as a symbol of Canada. From Pierre Berton to Neil Young, from Trivial Pursuit to the Canadian Edition of Monopoly, and for anyone who has found themselves there on a winter's day, the crossroads of Canada has earned its reputation many times over.
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